Tuesday, December 20, 2011

‘Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ a very good night

Seamus EganChristmas is not renowned as a Celtic holiday. England has carols and plum pudding and Charles Dickens; Ireland has the forbidding snow of James Joyce’s “The Dead.’’ Yet in just nine years, “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’’ has become a holiday staple, with performances this season not only in Boston but also in Portsmouth, N.H., Worcester, New Bedford, and Rockport.
Friday night at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, it was easy to see why. Hosted by the always engaging Brian O’Donovan of the parent WGBH radio show “A Celtic Sojourn,’’ the evening flew by faster than Seamus Egan’s twinkling fingers or Kevin Doyle’s flashing feet. The program was oriented toward Ireland and Scotland; it would have been nice to have more from Wales and Cornwall and Brittany. (There is plenty of Breton material, as “Christmas Revels’’ proved back in 1996.) But that’s a quibble.
The curtain rose on a darkened stage, the full ensemble in front of three Christmas trees. The O’Donovans - Brian and his wife, Lindsay - sat in armchairs stage right, as if they were in their living room and their friends had gathered there to make music. Ruth Moody, from Winnipeg, began to sing “The First Noel.’’ The infectious fiddle trio Halali stood and started playing. Moody switched to accordion, and we heard this season’s hot carol, “Noël Nouvelet.’’ Simon Chrisman and Kieran O’Hare swung into action on hammer dulcimer and uilleann pipes, respectively, and the children from the Harney Academy of Irish Dancing - refreshingly spontaneous and un-straitjacketed - came out.
This edition of the show was overseen by Egan as music director and the redoubtable local actress Paula Plum as artistic director, so no surprise that the evening was one delectable sweetmeat after another. Moody sang Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for a Winter’s Night’’ and “O Holy Night.’’ Cornwall was represented by “The Sans Carol.’’ Doyle did a humorous hornpipe and engaged in a cutting contest with percussionist Ben Wittman.
Traditional singer Len Graham from County Antrim contributed “Green Grow the Laurels’’ and “Raglan Road’’; Halali played reels that went on forever and yet ended too soon. Brian O’Donovan read bits of Christmas stories by Irish authors, making even “The Dead’’ sound warm and cozy. The best part of all just might have been watching 6- and 7-year-olds do a Kerry polka set to “Jingle Bells’’ and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.’’
There was one encore, “Oíche Chiúin’’/ “Silent Night,’’ sung first in Irish and then in English. Then Brian O’Donovan bid everyone farewell with “Oíche mhaith.’’ That’s Irish for “Good night’’ - which it most certainly was

‘Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ a very good night - Arts - The Boston Globe

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